Obviously, my genre is YA, and I’ve got an entire stash of overlooked titles that I adore, many of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. But focusing on this week’s Top 5 Wednesday prompt, I’ve decided to go for a throwback and narrow down my genre to YA books aimed at a younger audience. So no Leigh Bardugo or S. Jae-Jones today, but you’ll find a few novels that straddle the line between MG and YA.
Here are my top 5 gems in younger YA:
5. The City of Ember (Book of Ember #1) by Jeanne DuPrau
I’ll start off with a classic. The City of Ember was written back in 2003. I first read it many years ago, and over time it’s remained in my mind as one of the most memorable post-apocalyptic children’s books. It belongs to the era when dystopia still centred on tweenaged protagonists and used their innocence to explore dark issues, before the genre took a turn towards barely legal girls inciting rebellions within love triangles. (Nothing wrong with the latter, mind you, I just find it an interesting difference.) In The City of Ember, Lina and Doon are both 12, but their story discovering the secrets of a dying city trapped in perpetual darkness is fascinating to readers of all ages. I highly recommend this, and its three sequels, as quick and thought-provoking reads.
4. The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart
Alright, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include this one. For one, it came out in bookstores this month, unlike the other titles here which are at least a few years old. Secondly, I’m less convinced that it’s aimed at a younger audience–although the characters are impressionable, oftentimes naïve 15-year-olds, the language and themes of the book often take a darker turn. That said, it’s still a gem for the criminal lack of hype it’s received. An atmospheric horror novel and ode to the 80s, it’s easy to fall in love with The Sacrifice Box and its compelling cast of friends.
3. Son (The Giver #4) by Lois Lowry
Everyone has heard of The Giver, that acclaimed classic of the dystopian genre recently made into a movie with, uh, Taylor Swift. But not many people know about its three sequels–Gathering Blue, Messenger, and the longest one to tie them together, Son. I have to mention that these books are controversial. Some people think they’re genius, some people think they’re proof that Lois Lowry was a one-hit wonder. I haven’t read the series in a long while, but I’ve always been inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. Son certainly touched me emotionally when I first read it shortly after it was released; there’s something raw and aching in Claire’s journey from start to finish. It’s far from perfectly written, but in such a world as hers, how can any story be remotely close to perfect? There’s a possibility you might hate this book, of course–but you might just love it, and you won’t know until you try.
2. The Forbidden Game by L.J. Smith
Okay, okay, yeaaaaahhhh. Hear me out. I was again very hesitant to put this one on my list, but you know what, I’m just gonna do it. Yes, this book is super trashy. Yes, this book isn’t necessarily what you’d give to a kid. Yes, this book isn’t even technically a book and is actually a whole trilogy, but it’s been published as an omnibus so I’ll allow myself to count it as one. For the uninitiated, L.J. Smith is better known as the author of The Vampire Diaries. The Forbidden Game is often unnoticed next to that much more famous series, but it’s just as good two decades later. This is the stalker romance that everyone has by now learned to read on their Kindle (seriously, why would you ever carry one of these around in paperback form), and also the sexiest book that doesn’t mention sex a single time as far as I can remember. Skeptical? Well, it has to stay age-appropriate for the younger readers. Don’t worry though, still a better love story than 50 Shades.
1. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
In my opinion, this is the best Beauty and the Beast retelling out of a surprising many in YA. It has a little bit of steamier content if memory serves correctly, but it was written by a conservative Catholic author, so I figure it can’t have been all that bad. Anyways, badass heroine, evocative writing and a really, really weird ending that somehow makes poetic sense–I’d recommend this any day.